The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, July 7, 2020

How about a hand for the WTA players? — Interview: Malika Rose — Must-click women's tennis links

Hi! Howard Megdal here. The IX helps build the necessary infrastructure for women’s sports media. In this moment, freelance budgets have been cut, reporters are losing their jobs. Women’s sports always bears the brunt of that first.

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WTA continues to lead by example

ATP players in the United States participated in the DraftKings All-American Team Cup in Atlanta, the first professional tennis with an audience in the country. Unfortunately, Frances Tiafoe, who was only tested prior to leaving for the event and doing only temperature checks on site, tested positive for COVID-19 after admitting post-match that he was under the weather. For an event, even if an exhibition, to be reckless and not adhere to strict protocols, is unacceptable.

The Credit One Bank Invitational two weeks ago in Charleston was a success, where 16 WTA players and limited staff were tested daily on site. Ballkids wore masks, gloves and didn’t even touch the tennis balls — a contraption to pick up and throw balls were used instead. As COVID-19 numbers keep rising, extreme measures must be utilized.

When the USTA announced their plans for the US Open, Tournament Director Stacey Allaster said they would expect the players to adhere to all protocols enforced by the tournament, USTA and city of New York. That was before COVID-19 wiped through Novak Djokovic’s Adria Tour and players were still seen partying after being exposed.

As for the WTA? Not one player has publicly revealed a positive test and those who were exposed have quarantined like experts have asked.

It’s time for the Tours to unite together and list out an agenda players playing these tournaments must meet. If a player is caught not adhering to rules, they should be reprimanded and withdrawn from the tournament. A zero tolerance policy has to be sent to the players for them to sign. We all want professional tennis to happen again, but we need to be considerate of the lives lost and ones at risk even more.

Note: we’ve reached out to the WTA for a statement on if they plan on implementing anything mandatory for the players upon the Tour’s reopening and avoiding any catastrophe. We will insert this here if they respond.

In more news to stan the WTA, Unraveling Athena: The Champions of Women’s Tennis, a documentary about the game’s greatest, will be coming to a home screen near you within the next few weeks. Watch the trailer below:

This Week in Women’s Tennis

Billie Jean King sat down for the WTA Insider Podcast as part of the Tour’s celebration for LGBTQ Pride Month. It’s a must listen as she delves into visibility and inclusiveness within the sport.

Roland Garros plans on having fans for their tournament in September after the FFT announced that they plan to be at 50-60 percent capacity. Honestly, I hope they change their stance in the coming weeks to avoid becoming the sporting event that leads to drastic spikes in COVID-19 cases.

Naomi Osaka and sister Mari combined forces to design a mask where proceeds will benefit underserved youth in Japan. Naomi, Martina Navratilova and Zina Garrison were all highlighted for their efforts of activism.

Among the casualties from COVID-19 have been many college tennis teams, but there have been some major hires within the community. 2007 NCAA team champion Christy Striplin Lynch was named the head coach at Clemson, only the fourth in the program’s history. Former Doubles World No. 126 Aleke Tsoubanos was promoted to head coach at Vanderbilt, where she was a thirteen-year assistant coach and 2004 graduate. Raquel Atawo, who retired in 2019 following a career that captured 18 WTA doubles titles, was recently announced as the assistant coach at Auburn after volunteering this previous season at her alma mater Cal.

The USTA announced that they have cancelled a number of ITF Pro Circuit events due to be held in August due to COVID-19:

In Montreux, Switzerland, Iga Swiatek stormed to the Elle Spirit Open title with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Viktorija Golubic. The event was highlighted by World No. 5 Elina Svitolina, who didn’t advance out of the round robin stage after upsets by Golubic and World No. 284 Simona Waltert.

Allie Kiick celebrated her 25th birthday last week and honored her late father, Miami Dolphins great Jim, who passed away before Father’s Day, by raising over $17,000 for CTE research.

Missing Wimbledon? Relive the unseeded Cinderella runs to the quarterfinals and beyond at the All England Club.

Simona Halep is hoping to mark her return to play in Palermo when WTA action returns next month. However, the World No. 2 hasn’t yet decided if she will be traveling to New York to play the US Open.

Last week’s Five at the IX guest Leslie Allen was a guest on’s podcast. Sachia Vickery also sat down to discuss the awareness she’s been proactively sharing on social media.

Lastly, can we just stare in awe at this:

Tweet of the Week

Good on ya, Genie

Five at The IX: Malika Rose

Malika Rose is a professional tennis player with career highs of No. 880 in singles and No. 826 in doubles. She is a graduate of Oklahoma State University, changing the program from mid-tier in the Big 12 to among the nation’s best. She received All-Big 12 honors both athletically and academically and participated in the NCAA Doubles Championship. She sits down to discuss coming back to the game during COVID-19, being a player of color and more

Joey: After college, you began to play on tour and started making some progress before the cost of the game a shoulder injury took its toll. You were actually in Mexico for your comeback tournament when the ITF cancelled play. What was that like and how have you been able to train in COVID? Do you have an idea of when you want to play again?
Malika: Traveling to Cancun to play my first tournament after many years of not competing only for my comeback to be post posted was disappointing, but I think it was easier for me to digest considering there was a much larger issue at hand. I think it would have been more difficult for me emotionally had I had to postpone my comeback due to an injury or a setback in recovery – yet again. Since the reason was due to the pandemic, an issue much larger than sports, I was more concerned about the health and safety of my family and friends than playing my event. Ever since we have been sheltering in place and quarantining, I have spent a lot of time working on my fitness and my serve. The extra time has been quite productive for me, so I think I have used this time in a way that I hope will benefit my game once we are able to compete again. 

Joey: As someone seasoned on the ITF and USTA Pro Circuits, what can be done to help maximize and protect the lower leagues of the sport?
Malika: It’s quite clear that the lower leagues need more support from the main tours. A couple of changes we can make are: the main tour can better support and promote the ITF Pro Circuit with more funding to help improve prize money, adding more events to the calendar to encourage players to compete locally, which would reduce the cost of travel. This topic has been at the forefront of recent conversations and I’m hopeful that the tennis bodies will come up with sustainable solutions to these complex yet important issues. 

Joey: The IX is an ode to Title IX, which helped afford your opportunity to play at Oklahoma State. How did your college experience set you up on and off of the court and for your future?
Malika: I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to compete at OSU during my college career. I gained so much from my time in Stillwater. A couple of the most valuable things I gained were better understanding of who I was as a person and player. There are many transitions one has to make to be a successful student-athlete in college, and those transitions forced me to answer questions about myself, my habits, tendencies, and weakness. In short, the most valuable thing my college experience forced me to do was to grow. 

Joey: With all of the current events happening, racial injustice is at the forefront. As a woman of color in a predominately white sport, how has that impacted your journey as a tennis player? What can be done to give ample opportunity to all marginalized groups?
Malika: The recent events have had more of an impact on my personal life than on my tennis life. Personally, I don’t think the tennis bodies have taken a bold enough stance on the racial injustices many communities are protesting around the world. I have felt more support from the many players who have spoken out against injustices than from tennis organizations. I have been touched by the many stories and messages shared by players on tour, which has been very uplifting. Sloane, Francis, and Felix are just a couple of players who have used their platform to promote equality and change within our sport and communities around the world. 

I’ve been personally touched by their stories and advocacy, which is why their names are at the forefront of my mind. Overall, I’m very proud of all the players, coaches, and organizations who have shown solidarity with those who are in pain and are fighting for equal rights. 

Joey: What was the best piece of advice you’ve been given and who gave it? If you could go back in time, what would you tell 18-year-old Malika?
Malika: The best piece of advice was given to me by one of my junior coaches, Lori McNeil. What she told me was so fundamental, yet made such a difference in my outlook as a player and individual. What she told was to simply “take ownership of my game”. This may sound so simple, but so much of my identity as a player was rooting in what other thought of me and my game. As a junior, I didn’t play because I enjoyed it or had a desire to be good. For many years, I was simply going through the motions and not playing or training with a true purpose. At that moment, she helped me realize that I can and must play on my own terms because at the end of the day it’s my game. Once I put her advice in action, I felt more ownership of my game an in turn started to working harder because I had a purpose and personal goals to achieve.

I would tell my younger self to trust in Lori’s advice and to listen to my instincts – all of which require me to believe in myself more and in return helped me to enjoy the process. Playing sports is such a great privilege and tennis has enriched my life beyond measure. My younger self didn’t recognize that and was too overwhelmed and concerned with others. Lori’s advice was the start for me, but it took me years to really feel comfortable in implementing that.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon  Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By Carly Grenfell, @Carlygren
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster

Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.